Public Watchdog.org

Should City Taxes Be Raised To Fund Center Of Concern?

05.16.11

In recent years the Center of Concern (“CofC”) – a private corporation that provides a variety of “social services” to people in Des Plaines, Niles, Morton Grove, Maine Township and Park Ridge – has been masterful at securing hand-outs of our tax dollars from the City of Park Ridge.  Former City Councils were soft touches when it came to writing CofC $50,000+ checks without even asking how much of that money was actually going to Park Ridge residents, for what services, and at what price.

But as the “new” Park Ridge City Council struggles to repair the defective budget it inherited from the past council before the May 30 deadline for doing so, CofC has cranked up its propaganda machine to make sure it retains its place at the head of the public trough.

This past Wednesday TribLocal reporter Jennifer Delgado wrote a “puff piece” featuring two local women who have used CofC’s home-sharing program – where CofC matches prospective “tenants” with homeowners – so that the latter can afford to stay in their homes.  It was a typical warm-and-fuzzy human interest story, short on details and bereft of public policy discussions.

But the far more interesting propaganda was an “open letter” to the City Council from former 4th Ward aldermen John Kerin and Jim Radermacher, now members of CofC’s board of directors, published by the Park Ridge Journal (“Raising Taxes Better than Cutting Funding To The Center Of Concern,” 5/11/11). 

As the title suggests, Kerin and Radermacher want the Council to raise our property taxes rather than have the City Council follow Mayor Dave Schmidt’s recommendation of cutting CofC’s $49,500 of funding, along with some additional funding earmarked for Meals on Wheels and Maine Center for Mental Health, from the 2011-12 City budget.  The following propaganda points from Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher deserve a little deconstruction:

  • CofC “was contacted by over 15,400 area residents in need of assistance” in 2010, before claiming that CofC “directly helped thousands of Park Ridge residents,” of which “seniors” were the “largest group.”

Exactly how many “thousands” of Park Ridge residents contribute to that 15,400 “area” total?  That number is missing from their letter, but CofC’s 2011 application for City funding claims 6,770 “Park Ridge residents served” – without listing exactly what services those residents are getting, how much time is being spent by CofC providing those services, or what those services actually cost CofC.  We are very skeptical of a full 18% of Park Ridge residents even seeking, much less receiving, services from CofC, but proof is hard to come by when CofC doesn’t volunteer that information in any detailed form even to City officials  

  • CofC is “able to use the $49,500 in Park Ridge support and turn it into a $773,000 budget….” 

No blasphemy intended, but such an ROI is the kind of loaves-and-fishes stuff even Bernie Madoff didn’t have the nerve to promise!  Unfortunately, there’s no ready way to determine the validity of such a claim because, when it comes to transparency and accountability about what it does and the related costs, CofC avails itself of every bit of secrecy its “private corporation” status affords.   

  • Donating $49,500 of City tax dollars to CofC “equates to $1.31 per resident.”

Are Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher conceding that CofC’s fundraising is so inept that it can’t even raise the equivalent of $1.31 per Park Ridge resident in direct, voluntary donations?  That very well could be, because a check of Schedule G to CofC’s last-filed (per GuideStar) IRS Form 990-EZ indicates that its fundraising for the entire 2008-09 fiscal year was a measly $29,718 net.  Which raises the question: Does CofC really stink at fundraising, or do the people of Park Ridge believe CofC’s services to Park Ridge aren’t worth $1.31/year? 

  • “[I]f it came down to raising our taxes or cutting funding for the not-for-profits, we would recommend raising our taxes.”

Not surprisingly, we here at PublicWatchdog have a few recommendations or our own that don’t involve CofC taking any more money from the Park Ridge municipal treasury, at least not without providing the transparency and accountability that’s been MIA so far:

1.   Let CofC go to the Des Plaines City Council and get more than the lousy $9,000 those folks budgeted for CofC this year, especially because we suspect Des Plaines (with 56,316 people and a median household income of $60,674) uses a lot more CofC services than Park Ridge (with 37,480 people and a median household income of $112,049).  And we also suspect Des Plaines’ public treasury, with a budget of $96,300,552 and sales tax receipts of $12,495,617, can afford it more than Park Ridge, with a budget of only $57,263,316 and sales tax receipts of a paltry $5,070,000.   

2.   After it’s done shaking down Des Plaines, let CofC head over to Niles and Morton Grove and hit their respective boards of trustees up for $1.31 per resident, since they don’t appear to be budgeting anything for CofC. 

3.   Let the 14 CofC Board Members and the 39 CofC Advisory Board members dig into their own pockets to support their favorite community group, instead of expecting the taxpayers to do it for them.  $49,500 divided by 53 equals a shade under $940 each – a small price to pay for something they claim to “actually feel good about” (according to Kerin and Radermacher), especially when they are also receiving whatever acknowledgements, goodwill and other benefits that may come from being promoted on CofC’s website in that fashion.

4.   Let CofC offer to open up its books and records to City officials so that our elected representatives can determine for themselves and on our behalf whether CofC actually is doing all those things it claims to be doing for Park Ridge residents, and at what cost.  In fact, that should be required before the City gives CofC another dime, because City Council Policy No. 6 states that the City’s payment of public money to private organizations (like CofC) must be based on, among other things, the “community benefit for such services” – presumably on a cost-benefit basis tied to the amount of public money being given away.  Without seeing CofC’s books and records, the City administration has no way of determining whether it could be providing those same services to Park Ridge residents at less, perhaps way less, than the $49,500 CofC is “charging.”

5.   CofC should offer to contract with the City – just like any other vendor of services to the City and its residents – for those specific services it is providing, at a specific price per service unit (per hour, per task, etc.).  That way, our public officials and the City’s taxpayers alike can know that they are getting at least $1.00 of service from CofC for every $1.00 they are paying.

We’d prefer to see CofC actually become self-supporting rather than relying on annual handouts of public funds, which is why we prefer recommendation Nos. 1, 2 and 3, individually and in concert.  But, frankly, we don’t expect all the folks with their names on the CofC website – especially all those “Hon.” ones – to put their money where their mouths are.

But if CofC truly is a legitimate and efficient essential service provider to the City, it should welcome and embrace recommendation Nos. 4 and 5, which will finally provide some much-needed transparency and accountability to the Park Ridge taxpayers whose public officials have been “donating” hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to CofC over the years, no questions asked.

That’s the bare minimum Park Ridge taxpayers deserve for their money.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

I think the question in you title was answered last night. They have raised taxes to give money to CofC as well as to the couple of other groups and the Youth Commission. Will wait for the Mayor’s veto on this one…

EDITOR’S NOTE: If one looks at the glass as half-empty, it’s true that the Council recklessly budgeted a give-away of public funds while requiring no transparency or accountability from the intended community group recipients. Looking at it as half-full, however, it appears the give-away was divided into 4 quarterly installments instead of one big check – which could allow the Council to require back up info as a condition on payment of the remaining 3 installments, should the Council so choose. And, last but not least, budgeted is not the same as appropriated – so Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher, along with several other CofC sycophants who showed the CofC flag last night for the brief time it took the Council to budget their money, will likely need to come back a few more times to ensure they get all four installments of cash.

If one observes politics and the “pundits” long enough one thing becomes clear – there is no consistency required. Based on that theory, the Mayor will probably not veto. His reasoning??? Just look above at PD’s glass half full theory. That will be his cover.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the mayor doesn’t get the budget he wants, he should line-item veto it again. And if the new Council chooses to over-ride that veto, it should do so line item by line item, rather than in the deceitful and gutless one-fell-swoop fashion of the old Council, on Ald. DiPietro’s motion.

I say let’s get creative and find the money in the budget. Typical elected officials: Spend months agonizing over $50K and 10 inattentive minutes authorizing expenditures in the hundreds of thousands or even in the millions.

For starters, since every third law-abiding homeowner in Park Ridge likes to create downtown Beirut in his own backyard every July 4 irrespective of the $20K fireworks going on at Maine East, let’s save the $20K there. Then, let’s dun Taste for the $20K they owe us – the hard-pressed restaurants won’t let them kill it and if they do, the new Chamber head is kick-ass and can take it back handily. That’s $40K saved.

I could go on. Stop the penny-wise, pound-foolish waste of our elected officials limited attention spans. Fund the serious charities and move on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you “could go on,” you might want to consider doing so – because last night the City Council approved giving away $49.5K to Center of Concern, so you’re already down $9K.

We haven’t seen any legit, detailed data from any “serious charities” in Park Ridge that would prove in any reasonable fashion that the taxpayers are getting 100 cents for each dollar the City arbitrarily throws at these groups, which helps explain why you’re already down $9K.

Did any of the 3 groups looking for tax money say whta they charge for their services?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No.

11:54 AM,

Please tell me why government, at any level, should “Fund the serious charities”?

If the citizens agree that the government should provide certain services, then the government should buy them or provide them directly. I don’t understand why people expect the government to make donations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because “donations” are unrestricted gifts that require no transparency or accountability, two things that our local community groups act like they want no part of.

But if 11:54 wants to answer for him/herself, we’ll print it.

…..Should City taxes be used to fund “a strongly worded letter to the FAA” from a lawyer that the FAA won’t ever acknowledge?!?!

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, and from the discussion at Monday night’s City Council meeting, they won’t be.



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